Update: 7:45 a.m.: According to texts from the Sports Authority on Thursday morning, the Speedway agenda item was deferred and will not be considered before the next meeting.
The chair of the Metro Sports Authority, the body required to approve the bonds for a deal to refurbish Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, indicated this week that the proposal was not guaranteed to make it through the authority’s board before the end of the Metro Council’s term.
Despite major headwinds, Mayor John Cooper has been determined to get this deal done before he leaves office. Through multiple lawsuits, multiple community organizations both for and against the racetrack duking it out and multiple delays to the legislative process, the Cooper administration has remained confident that they could get the deal done this term. But Sports Authority Chair Cathy Bender tells the Banner that the Cooper administration’s timeline is not the Sports Authority’s timeline.
“I just think that there’s a lot of information and groundwork that we have to cover before we even embark down that road,” says Bender. “I know that there are some timelines out there. But I don’t think that our authority is necessarily aligned with any of those timelines.”
On Thursday, the Metro Sports Authority finance committee will meet at 9 a.m. followed by a full authority board meeting at 10:30 a.m. On the agenda are resolutions revolving around the leasing of the Speedway and the issuance of bonds, as well as a resolution approving the project budget for the Titans’ stadium.
At a Sports Authority work session on June 28, Metro’s Deputy Legal Director Tom Cross revealed that the full cost of the Fairgrounds Speedway renovations would not be known until November. If the price tag was higher than the funds committed to the deal by the state, Convention and Visitors Corp. and Metro, then Bristol Motor Speedway, the company that will operate the track, could choose to walk away.
In June, a Cooper administration spokesperson told the Banner that BMS choosing to walk away would have little to no financial impact on Metro. The information left many critics wondering what the point of approving the deal now was if it could all fall through in November. Bender says the need to gather information, hold work sessions and get a better grasp of what the deal entails outweighs the need to hew to the mayor’s timeline.
“That is not a mandate that we’ve received,” says Bender. “And that’s not a part of what we do. We feel like we truly have to take the time and put in the effort to vet the deal before making any recommendations. So if it aligns with someone else’s agenda, that’s fine, but that is not our mandate.”
The Fairgrounds Speedway moved to the front of Metro political conversations almost immediately following the passage of the Titans Stadium deal. Things quickly got ugly both inside and outside of the Metro Council chambers. In the spring, the first of four lawsuits in relation to the speedway was filed. Metro Legal’s suit against the state violated home rule when it passed legislation bringing the threshold of votes required to approve demolition of the existing Speedway grandstand from 27 votes to 21 votes.
Two additional suits were filed against the state over the legislation: one by Metro councilmembers and one by neighbors surrounding the Speedway. But a fourth lawsuit filed by Howard Tucker, a racer at the Speedway, seeks declaratory judgment in Chancery Court over whether or not the grandstand demolition actually even requires a 27-vote threshold. The success of that lawsuit would effectively cancel out the other three suits.
Putting the lawsuits and controversy aside, the community meeting required for the deal to be considered by the Metro Council was scheduled by District 17 Councilmember Colby Sledge to take place on July 25, leaving only two council meetings for a piece of legislation that requires three to be heard. An attempt by District 10 Councilmember Zach Young to circumvent Sledge failed. The legislation will require a special meeting to be called by either Cooper, Vice Mayor Jim Shulman or the Metro Council in order to pass before the term ends.